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March 12, 2024

How To Write an Abstract for Any Subject and Publication (With Examples)

How To Write an Abstract for Any Subject and Publication (With Examples)

Table of contents

An abstract is a short summary of a longer work, such as a study or research paper. The goal is to provide readers with an overview of the purpose, methodology, results, conclusion, and importance of this text.

As a writing coach and part-time academic editor and translator, I’ve read hundreds of abstracts and helped authors draft and refine dozens more. I’ve found that, when writing an abstract, the greatest difficulty lies in balancing brevity, detail, and accessibility.

Fortunately, there’s a simple formula you can use to write a solid abstract for publication, regardless of the subject. What’s more, you can leverage AI to help you write a clear, concise abstract — without losing your voice or sounding unprofessional.

Below you’ll find step-by-step instructions, best practices, examples, and a helpful checklist. 

Key Takeaways

  • An abstract offers a succinct overview of the aims, results, and importance of your research.
  • Check submission guidelines, write clearly and concisely, and use language to “guide” readers through your abstract. 
  • The IMRaD (Introduction, Methodology, Results, and Discussion) approach is simple and effective. 
  • More and more authors are using AI to do the heavy lifting. With the right prompts, AI can save you time and create a cohesive abstract.

Writing an abstract: First steps and best practices

Keep the following in mind as you write your abstract:

  • If you’re submitting to a publication, check for specific guidelines regarding overall length, format, keywords, and the presence or absence of section headings (e.g. “Purpose”). Follow these guidelines exactly.
  • Write concisely and clearly. If you struggle to write concisely, consider using an AI-writing assistant like Wordtune. Simply select text to receive suggestions on how to write a sentence or paragraph more concisely without losing any value.
  • Make your abstract self-contained. Don’t refer to passages in your article or research. If you must include terms that your audience may not be familiar with, such as highly technical jargon or concepts borrowed from another field, offer a brief definition.
  • Use connecting phrases like “for this reason,” “as a result,” and “this led us” to “guide” the reader through your abstract and help them see the connections between your research goal, methodology, results, and conclusions.
  • Read abstracts on similar studies. This gives you a good benchmark and can help you get started. If you’re submitting your abstract to a particular publication, it also gives you a good idea of the type of language and structure they prefer.
Wordtune offers suggestions to make your text clear and concise.

How to write an abstract: The IMRaD Structure

IMRaD stands for Introduction, Methodology, Results, and Discussion (or Conclusion). 

It’s the most common way to structure a research paper and a very simple way to approach your abstract. In some cases, authors even include these section headings in their abstracts. 

Step One: Introduction

Length: About 25% of your abstract

Purpose: Provide context for your research and describe your research objectives. 

Start by introducing your topic. There are two main parts to this:

  1. Your research question stated simply and straightforwardly (what missing knowledge does your study aim to answer?). You can use words like “investigate,” “review,” “test,” “analyze,” “study,” and “evaluate” to make it clear how your work relates to the context.
  2. A brief overview of the academic, historical, social, or scientific context. This helps the reader understand the importance and relevance of your work. In many cases, starting with context before your research question makes more sense, so feel free to write in that order. 

Regarding context, consider the following: 

For example:

Psychologists and neuroscientists have long studied the role of sleep in the formation of new memories. Previous research into how sleep affects memory has often struggled because it’s difficult to measure the quality, stages, and overall impact of sleep accurately. As a result, there’s ongoing debate in the scientific community, and recent research suggests sleep may not be as important as researchers once thought. In this study, we review the evidence and offer a novel conclusion: the same mechanisms thought to mediate sleep-related memory formation also operate during waking hours, particularly quiet wakefulness. 
In this example, several contextual cues are offered: it’s a long-standing topic in the literature; previous research is limited due to a specific issue, and there is active scientific debate. The section closes with the research aims: to review the evidence and offer a new conclusion. 

Step Two: Methodology

Length: About 25% of your abstract

Purpose: Clearly describe what you did and highlight novelty. 

In this section, provide a clear description of your research methodology. While it’s important to be concise, make sure you’re not being vague. Mention specific frameworks and tools. 

Example:

To explore the impact of social media on political engagement, we conducted a study with 200 participants, divided into two groups. The first was exposed to curated political content on social media, while the control group received a neutral feed. Our mixed-method approach combined quantitative engagement metrics analysis and qualitative interviews to assess changes in political participation.

There’s no need to provide an in-depth justification of your approach, although if it’s a novel one, it’s worth highlighting this and explaining what makes it appropriate. For example, "We chose this approach because it offers a clearer image of the structure of proteins involved in the transfer of electrons during cellular respiration."

Finally, you can omit methodological limitations; we’ll cover these later. 

Step Three: Results

Length: About 35% of your abstract

Purpose: Provide a clear, specific account of your results. 

This section is arguably the most important (and interesting) part of your abstract.

Explain the results of your analysis in a specific and detailed fashion. This isn’t the time to be vague or bury the lead. For example:

“Our survey indicates a marked shift in sedimentary rock composition. In three locations, we observed significant erosion, and mineralogical analysis revealed a high concentration of quartz. Further analysis suggests two major events in the past 200 years, correlating with disturbances in the region.”

"Our survey of the Redstone Canyon region identified a marked shift in sedimentary rock composition from predominantly sandstone to shale, particularly evident in the lower strata. Quantitative analysis showed a 40% increase in shale content compared to previous surveys. In three distinct locations, we observed significant erosion, with up to two meters of topsoil displacement, primarily due to water runoff. Mineralogical analysis revealed an unexpectedly high concentration of quartz (up to 22%) in these eroded areas. Additionally, our seismic retrogression analysis suggests two major seismic events in the past 200 years, correlating with the observed stratification disturbances."

Incidentally, you don’t need to include all of your findings here, only those that will help the reader to understand the next section: your discussion and conclusion (i.e., what the results mean). This will help you keep the results section concise and relevant. 

Step Four: Discussion/Conclusion

Length: About 15%

Purpose: Present what new knowledge you’ve found and why it matters.

Bearing in mind your research question, give a clear account of your conclusions. What new knowledge has been gained? 

The simplest way to do this is in the present tense: “We conclude that…”

You should also briefly explain why this matters. What are the implications of your findings? Be specific and avoid making claims that aren’t directly supported by your research. 

If there are any important limitations (such as population or control group size), you can mention them now. This helps readers assess the credibility and generalizability of your findings. 

Examples

You can use these samples for inspiration.

They are divided into introduction, methodology, results, and conclusion.

 1. Green Urbanism: Assessing the Impact of Urban Green Spaces on Mental Health in City Populations

The rising urbanization rate poses challenges to mental health, an issue garnering increasing attention in recent years. This study aims to analyze the impact of urban green spaces on the mental health of city dwellers. The focus is on how access to parks and natural environments within urban settings contributes to psychological well-being. For this purpose, we employed a cross-sectional survey methodology, targeting residents in three major cities with varying levels of green space availability. We used a combination of GIS mapping to determine green space distribution and structured questionnaires to assess mental health indicators among 1,000 participants. Our results show a clear correlation between access to green spaces and improved mental health outcomes. Residents with frequent access to parks reported 30% lower stress levels and a 25% reduction in symptoms related to anxiety and depression, compared to those with limited access. Additionally, our analysis revealed that green spaces in dense urban areas had a more significant impact than those in less populated districts. We conclude that urban green spaces play a crucial role in enhancing mental health. This underscores the importance of urban planning policies that prioritize green space development as a public health strategy. These findings have significant implications for city planning and public health policy, advocating for the integration of green spaces in urban development to foster mental well-being.

2. Synthetic Peptides: A New Frontier in the Battle Against Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria

The phenomenon of antibiotic resistance is a growing concern in medical science. This study investigates the effectiveness of novel synthetic peptides as potential antibiotics against multi-drug resistant bacteria. The research specifically examines the impact of these peptides on the cellular integrity and replication processes of resistant bacterial strains. Our methodology involved in vitro testing of three newly synthesized peptides against a panel of bacteria known for high resistance to conventional antibiotics. The bacterial strains included methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and vancomycin-resistant Enterococci (VRE). We used a combination of microbiological assays and electron microscopy to evaluate the antibacterial activity and the cellular changes induced by the peptides. The results were promising, showing that two of the three peptides effectively inhibited the growth of MRSA and VRE at low concentrations. Electron microscopy revealed significant disruption of bacterial cell walls and membranes, leading to cell lysis. These peptides also demonstrated low toxicity in preliminary mammalian cell culture tests, suggesting a high therapeutic index. Our study provides promising evidence for the use of synthetic peptides in combating antibiotic-resistant bacteria. These findings open new avenues for developing effective treatments against infections caused by drug-resistant pathogens and highlight the potential of peptide-based therapies in future pharmaceutical applications.

3. Revolutionizing Education: The Impact of AI-Personalized Learning on High School Mathematics Performance

The integration of artificial intelligence (AI) in education is a rapidly evolving area of study. This research explores the effectiveness of AI-driven personalized learning systems in enhancing student performance in high school mathematics. The study focuses on understanding how AI customization impacts learning outcomes compared to traditional teaching methods. We conducted a randomized controlled trial involving 500 high school students from five schools, divided into two groups. The experimental group used an AI-based learning platform that adapted to each student's learning pace and style, while the control group continued with standard classroom instruction. The study measured improvements in mathematical understanding and problem-solving skills over a six-month period. The results indicated a significant improvement in the AI group, with a 40% increase in test scores and a 35% rise in problem-solving abilities compared to the control group. Additionally, students using the AI system reported higher levels of engagement and satisfaction with the learning process. In conclusion, the use of AI-driven personalized learning systems shows considerable promise in enhancing educational outcomes in mathematics. This study suggests that AI personalization can be a valuable tool in modern educational strategies, potentially revolutionizing how subjects are taught and learned in schools.

FAQs

What is the main objective of an abstract?

The goal of an abstract is to provide readers with a concise overview of the purpose, methodology, results, conclusion, and importance of a longer work, such as a research paper or study. 

How long should an abstract be?

Depending on the publication, an abstract should be anywhere from 150 to 250 words. 

What should an abstract include?

An abstract should include an introduction (context + research question), the methodology, the results, and a conclusion (what you found and why it matters).

Conclusion

IMRaD is a simple formula you can follow to write a great abstract for any topic and publication type. Simply follow the instructions above to write each section: Introduction, Methodology, Results, and Discussion/Conclusion.

Be careful to balance detail with brevity, as abstracts are meant to be a short overview of your study. If you struggle with writing concisely and clearly, consider using a writing aid like Wordtune to handle some of the heavy lifting. 

Want to learn more key writing tips? Check out these articles:

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